The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, has signalled her intent to relinquish office in 2021. Politically, she has been increasingly fragile in recent years and her decision to take the bow has doubtless been influenced by the rather dismal performance of her centre-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU) in the regional election in Hesse.
It is still the leading party in the province, but Hesse has recorded its worst showing in this heartland region in half a century and the latest in a string of poor election performances. The denouement comes close on the heels of a not dissimilar showing for a key alliance partner in the Bavarian election.
The Hesse result follows a pattern that was manifest in the federal election of September last year, with centre parties losing votes to radical alternatives. Hesse has turned out to be the last straw that broke the camel’s back. Last Sunday, one in five of Hesse’s voters deserted the CDU and the SPD.
The CDU’s result was its worst in Hesse since 1966; the SPD’s its worst there since 1946. Having dominated German politics for as long as she did, her exit will therefore be a watershed in the country’s political history.
Historians will record her tenure as 21st century Germany’s dominant politician for the remarkably humanitarian policy ~ arguably pursued alone in Europe ~ towards the migrants from North Africa and the Arab region who were wandering from shore to shore in search of refuge.
She may have gone off at a tangent while accommodating the hapless thousands; her liberal and pragmatic policy may also have exerted considerable strain on the economy. But she did convey a message of her own to the European Union. She has opted to make this the twilight phase of her career and this could have critical consequences for Germany and Europe.
On the migrants issue, she was suitably bold to defy convention. And if there is any European leader to whom the migrant is grateful, it is Angela Merkel. The politics of Germany, so stable for so long, is now marked by uncertainty and the fallout could resonate beyond Berlin. Ergo, the history of the country, as well as Europe, is poised to enter a very critical phase.
In the aftermath of the provincial election, the central authority has weakened considerably. Politically, the impact has been two-fold. Specifically, there has been a Green surge towards the left; in parallel Germany bears witness to an anti-immigrant AFD (Alternative for Deutschland) surge towards the right.
In the net, there has been further fragmentation of Germany’s historical two-party system. Profound indeed has been the economic legacy that the Chancellor will bequeath. Her successor will have to learn from her strengths as well as her failings.